What is an editorial plan?
September 7, 2008 11:35 PM   Subscribe

What's an editorial plan? Do topic-focused weblogs (like the Gawker Media ones) have one? How do they work out what sort of content goes on their blog?

I revisited my past question on magazines because I've got the beginnings of a web magazine but need some help on focusing my content. The comments there mention editorial plans, but I can't seem to find concrete examples of such.

I have a stronger idea of whom my webzine is targeted towards, and some ideas of what content I want in there. However, my idea can easily devolve into tangents, and I'm looking for ways to better structure the content of my webzine. (What categories? What can go in and what can't? Who contributes? What are the guiding principles?)

I tend to work best by example, so any examples or suggestions for this would be greatly appreciated. I'm also working on the more business-y side of things, but I feel I need to get this aspect down pat before I work on the rest. Or should I just start up the site, do a few entries, and run with it?
posted by divabat to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm more familiar with print media, but you may be thinking of an editorial calendar. The mags and journals I've worked for mostly been small specialty interest publications. The more together ones tend to plan up to a year in advance and to do themed issues, which offer several advantages. They let interested readers know to look out for a particular issue. They can announce a call for articles well in advance to give authors with expertise a chance to write content. They have more time for editorial review. Most of all, they can sell advertising to companies who want to market to whatever subspecialty the themed issue addresses. (For instance, an issue of a health magazine might be completely devoted to bicycling. Bike and sports gear manufacturers will have more incentive to advertise in that issue.)

Here is a sample blog editorial calendar. I have not used it so I can't vouch for its efficacy. Blogs move much faster than print so I think this dude is on the right track by having a weekly calendar -- but if you can plan farther out in advance than that for big-deal special issue it's a good idea.

As for who contributes and guiding principles, you run a submission guidelines for authors and editorial policy statement somewhere prominent. Here is a sample. At this point, I'd worry a lot more about getting people to want to write for you, and developing a strategy to get an audience for them (through link sharing or any other marketing/PR strategy you can come up with). Editorial calendars are great but only if you have writers to supply the content. It really helps to get just one person on board who is well regarded in whatever topic area your mag will cover. Such a person can lead you to other contacts and can also be a name you mention when talking to prospective writers.

Chances are you'll be writing and doing everything yourself for a while, perhaps with the help of some friends. (However, don't count on anyone else, even friends, especially if you can't pay. Develop a backlog of pieces you can run when other people drop the ball.) Focus on making that content as spectacular as possible and building an audience for it because that's what you'll need to make the rest happen. Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 2:59 AM on September 8, 2008

We're ever so slightly smaller than the Gawker empire (snicker), but I can tell you what we did on the way to launching We Love DC.

Our case was slightly different than yours, since we had a functioning team already, but the underlying concept was the same: we sat around and talked about ideas for ongoing series that we'd be interested in reading or interested in writing; preferably both.

I cannot honestly remember if we set out with the goal of a 2-week calendar or if we simply came up with enough material that necessitated it, but in retrospect I'm so very glad we did. Every 14 days is a repeating event that happens often enough that when a feature runs it isn't a complete surprise to people again. It's also enough of a gap that writing them isn't an exercise in pain. "Jesus, time for that again?"

In our case we already had a guiding principle for content and it was a pretty simple one: content is about the area and/or living in the area. I think this is critical to have down before you start considering your categories since its going to be impossible to down select enough unless you have a sufficiently limited focus.

One of the other choices we made was to separate out longer form items from short items. Short items don't fall into the editorial calendar, beyond the goal of running several a day. Possibly more important than anything else - but not to the exclusion of everything else - is keeping new content moving along. Even authors whose professional paid output only surfaces once or twice a year - for example, John Scalzi and Meg Cabot - keep their 'personal' websites Whatever and Meg's Diary updating several times a week at bare minimum. So a strategy where you can insure constant updates is essential if you expect people to make a habit of coming back.

I hope that was in some way useful. I don't know if it's the Right Way but it's what we did.
posted by phearlez at 6:59 AM on September 8, 2008

If you're going to use categories/tags, that's an easy way to start defining your editorial plan. Make a list of the categories, do a rough ranking of how often each topic should appear, and then brainstorm ideas for each category. You can take the results and slot them into an editorial calendar like melissa may recommends.

Example, assuming I am planning a blog that covers multimedia handcrafts for an audience of people who hang out on Etsy and maybe want to sell a few things:

* Every week has an article in each of these categories: techniques, yarn, beads, papercraft, project instructions, how_to_glue_stuff, interview.
* Once a month in these categories: color trends, marketing, packaging, pricing.
* Quarterly: themed "issues" (guest authors, daily posts on the theme for a week, etc)
* Twice a year: photographing one's work, getting into galleries, taxes_and_you.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger recommends sitting down for an hour and listing out all the article ideas you can think of. You could then sort those ideas into your categories/calendar, and be set for a good while.
posted by catlet at 7:40 AM on September 8, 2008

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